Tuesday, November 29, 2005
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The withdrawal question
I was on NPR's News & Notes with Ed Gordon this morning to discuss the ifs and the whens of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (click on the link to listen). The other talking head was Laurence Korb from the Center for American Progress. Larry has forgotten a lot more about the U.S. military than I've ever learned, so I'm not sure how much value I added to the conversation.
Larry and I agreed that the question is not whether there will be a withdrawal of troops, but when and how. My take was similar to Fred Kaplan's:
The signs are clear, in any case, that a substantial withdrawal—or redeployment—is at hand. Top U.S. military officers have been privately warning for some time that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two without straining the Army to the breaking point. Rep. John Murtha's agenda-altering Nov. 17 call for an immediate redeployment was not only a genuine cri de coeur but also, quite explicitly, a public assertion of the military's institutional interests—and an acknowledgment of Congress' electoral interests.Here's Throughout the conversation Larry was pushing this September proposal he co-authored with Brian Katulis on a "strategic redeployment" of U.S. forces from Iraq.
My take is a little different -- why not wait for the newly-elected Iraqi government to ask for our phased departure? If U.S. forces are as unpopular in Iraq as Korb and others claim, any elected government would exploit that resentment to boost their popularity and legitimacy. Asking for a withdrawal, and having the Americans respond to that request rather than setting up their own schedule without any consultation whatsoever, would also boost the government's legitimacy.
So, my question to Korb and others is -- why not wait a month for the Iraqis to ask us to do what everyone across the American political spectrum wants us to do anyway?posted by Dan on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM
That would be especially convenient if the new government in Iraq is a progressive one; if on the other hand it turns out to be ridden with orthodox fundamentalists who are anti-American to begin with, it might be embarrassing - i.e. the difference between "friends leaving" and "invaders getting kicked out".
Besides, in the latter situation, the U.S. wouldn't necessarily be interested in bestowing any more legitimacy than it has to on such a government.
So.. maybe its an indication that the winds are blowing in the direction of a win for Anti-American politicians at the Iraqi polls next month?
I agreeing totally. If the Iraqi elected government asks for a phased withdrawal, we'll be one step further from the notion of U.S. as occupier. Of course, best to make some deals behond the scenes to make sure the request is amicable to our own interests, as much as possible.
Easier said than done.posted by: Chris on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
Wish I could spell... :-/posted by: Chris on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
I think you meant "everyone across the US political spectrum" except the neocons and the neo-imperialists want a quick withdrawal.posted by: Josh on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
Barry Posen at MIT has a new piece out on how to draw down US forces over the next 18 months; Boston Review will be running responses by Joe Biden, Russ Feingold, and others:
More importantly, if the government asks for a US withdrawal, and then Iraq collapses into civil war, the USA is not on the moral hook for the hundreds of thousands of deaths that follow. They can pretend that they didn't know what was coming.
If they simply leave, and a million people die, that's going to be it for any possible intervention anywhere, no matter how direly needed, for at least a generation (barring huge catastrophic strike on the USA).posted by: Tom West on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
Question: How better for a newly elected Iraqi Govt to cement its popularity--regardless of its ethnic/sectarian/philosophical makeup--than to request the US to kindly start removing its troops?
Does anyone think this was NOT part of the plan all along? Right. So if this is what the administration had in mind all along, the question was (for Democrats) how to take credit for what was about to happen. This is SOO like when Spiderman or Superman kicks bad guy butt, then pipsqueak guy slaps his hands together and says "and STAY out."
The only problem is, critics of the admin are here counting coup at the expense of long term national policy interests. In other words, screw em.posted by: Kelli on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
This is a great insight; but, certainly Murtha was a "Johnny-come-lately" in the sense that the Pentagon's plan was in place and approved by Bush before Murtha's speech; the Bush Administration merely refused to announce it out of prudent strategic concerns that have been repeated for years regarding the need to refrain from indicating future plans. Looked at this way, it was quite patriotic of Bush to keep the withdrawal close to his vest as long a he did (and in a way continues to keep it close to his vest by maintaining caveats and conditions regarding withdrawal) given the beating he's been taking in public discourse.
History may prove our surgical intervention in Iraq, aptly analogous to a doctor removing a cancer, was overall ingenious given the facts on the ground both military, social, religious, and emotional. Mistakes were made; many. But even 1,000 mistakes out of the 1,000,000,000s of individual decisions that are part of any military operation is still quite something to find remarkable; I think history will be kind to George W. Bush. It might be argued that Bush as Commander-in-Chief may prove to be one of the best ever; akin to FDR, but one better for having learned from history and having intervened at his "Rhineland/Sarr 1935-36" moment rather than permit a Ruler/Gangster engage in international gangsterism in defiance of international law.
The Objective Historianposted by: The Objective Historian on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
History may also prove that our operation was indeed a success but the patient died. Whatever may be said of the Iraq war, "ingenious" is not a term that comes easily to mind.
It might also be argued that George Bush chose to spend American blood and treasure to overthrow a minor tyrant with a Potemkin Army who was not feared even by his neighbors (Turkey and Iran) and that Bush was the one who induldged in gangsterism in defiance of international law.
posted by: Mark M on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
"If U.S. forces are as unpopular in Iraq as Korb and others claim, any elected government would exploit that resentment to boost their popularity and legitimacy."
you are very wrong about this. because the only people the American military is protecting are the political elite. So, why on earth would any one elected government ever want the USA to leave and to be subjected to the same conditions of violence and death as everyone else? or, since the political elite is generally a group of crooks, criminals and puppets, it is most likely that they would face a higher level of violence as targets.
If the USA stopped protecting the government, then you would get withdrawl demands in one second. they would say "what are you good for if you leave us here to die..." or, the other option is if people like Muqtada (who literally has an army to defend himself, not to mention grassroots) start to take over the government, then you may get a pullout request too. But there is no way you will when the government is 90% expatriates, Iranians, and puppets. And those are the people who have been empowered to steal the country blind, not the Iraqi people.posted by: joe m. on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
"the Bush Administration merely refused to announce it out of prudent strategic concerns that have been repeated for years regarding the need to refrain from indicating future plans"
Absolutely true. And it may turn out to be the most significant blunder of the war, politically. Plans change due to circumstances, that is their nature. Had the adminstration presented a reasonably detailed set of metrics by which our withdrawals would be matched, no reasonable Americans would be holding a gun to their head to get it exactly right. But this administration prefers trying to keep up an aura of stalwartness and perfection that manifests itself as stubborness and inflexibility. Thats how we were stuck with the Bremer fiasco for so long. Dont mistake me, the Bush people _do_ adjust, it just seems that they only are willing to adjust when they feel nobody is looking. Perhaps it is the Quantum Theory of Government. Of course if you refuse to tell anybody your plans no-one can accuse you of altering them, and while that part of the plan may have succeeded, the part where the American people missed victory when they saw it instead called it defeat probably wasnt in the manifesto.posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
"But there is no way you will when the government is 90% expatriates, Iranians, and puppets. "
Joe m, i think your reading off the 2003 talking points. You might want to get an update.posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
It doesn't matter for Mark. Talking points is talking points...posted by: Richard Cook on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
Dr Drezner: Very interesting comments on the PBS segment. You mentioned that it was "ironic" that Iraq may now be the best place to fight the war on terror - is that because you agree with Mr. Korb's assertion that Mr. Zarqawi came to Iraq as a consequence of U.S. action?posted by: Robert Bell on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
you know mark, i think you are probably one of the few people that uses this website who even gives a damn about the iraqi people. unfortunately, you are ultraconservative. which is pretty much an oxymoron.
mark, the "election" (where the candidates were not even made public) did not change the people who were in government, it just changed their titles. as though there is a single iraqi who would vote for ahmed chalabi? and almost the whole dawa and sciri parties are from iran and europe. the kurds are not really iraqi (as both kurds and arabs agree), alawi is a cia agent... maybe i am off by a few people, but it is pretty close.
but that doesn't deny my more important point that it is against the interests of the political elite to have the americans leave, because they are the ones being protected. so, "democracy" or iraqi public opinion don't really have much to say about when the Americans leave.posted by: joe m. on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
Joe, there is another election coming up, where the candidates have been known and been jockeying for months. The process is now twice tested and understood by the Iraqi people. Chances are a lot of the folks you are dismissing will be returned to office (but not all), Chalabi may do well himself. Because they are saavy politicians. Obviously the Iraqi political process is not perfect. But its logically impossible that the Iraqi government can be a US puppet, a Fundamentalist nutcase, a powerhungry ex-pat, and an Iranian lapdog all at the same time. Or more precisely all of those things may have an element of truth, but together they tend to cancel each other out, particularly when balanced by the many other Iraqis who dont fit those catagories. You could just as accurately describe the US government as a bunch of Christian fundamentalist, ACLU christmas hating, gun grabbing, gun-nut, abortion loving, pro-lifer, big oil, big tobacco, big environmental sell outs. All that is true, in its own way. But that doesnt mean we dont have a viable democracy. Iraq is still learning and democracy is a process, not an event. They are light years ahead of where they were 2 years ago, or even 6 months ago. This next election will be a greater steppingstone yet. So what happens then? Is the Republic of Iraq still a farce because of *insert hanging chad joke here*, or do we agree that progress is being made and the Iraq is truly becoming democratic?posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
I agree that Iraq has become more democratic. I do not agree that Iraq is better off now. It is entirely possible that as a result of the increased democracy in Iraq that it will be both more democratic and better of in the future, but I do not dare to make that judgement (though, I am pessimistic).
But, in terms of crooks like Chalabi, the whole idea that he is a "saavy politician" is sickening. Because, that is like saying that "Mubarak is a survivor." I don't care that he stole so many secrets that the Americans continue to need him, or that the CIA gave him so much money that he bought partons, he should be hanged for his crimes, just as saddam. If he manages to stay in power in Iraq, it will be in spite of the Iraqi people, not because of them. and he is just the extreme example. The vast majority of Iraqi politicians have cultivated their positions because of the Americans, not the Iraqis. The only obvious counterexample is Muqtada.
And yes, the republic of Iraq is still a farce until it becomes obvious that the government is representative of the wishes of the Iraqi people, independent of the wishes of the USA or Iran. I recognise that the Interests of the Iraqi people will often overlap with those of the Iranian, but I think they seldom do with the wishes of the American government. Just as the governments of Jordan or Egypt are a farce because they don;t represent their people. Even that of Syria is, though, for its kleptocracy or its supression of political involvement, not for its israel or arab nationalist or socialist policies.posted by: joe m. on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
And if most of the people in power currently are returned to office, it is not be because Iraq is democratic. there is a huge difference between having elections and being a "democracy", and too many Americans don't even know there is a difference. I would love to see open discussion or debates about policy among Iraqi politicians. for that matter, i have no idea how easy or hard it is for the average person to form a political party or to run in the elections. though, it is extremely hard for someone off the street to get their name out without the support of the Americans or aljazeera. Last election, Alawi was on TV 24 hours a day because he was supported by the Americans. Right now, i hear that Chalabi has posters of himself up everywhere. Alawi got something like 10% of the vote last time. Which is probably 9% higher then he would have had he been independent. Al-Hakim probably does have legit local support to some degree, but he was given power, he did not earn it.
and, some people in the government are puppets, some are criminals, some are foreigners... and a few are honest Iraqis who are working for the betterment of the Iraqi people. But they were also almost all appointed/empowered to their positions by the USA. the USA is a hogpoge of crooks too, but they were elected by the stupidity of their people, not given them my the chinese.
like i said above, if those in government get there based on honest support from the people (more then just elections, like Muqtada has done in building an organization and growing his popularity), then i will accept the Iraqi government as an honest one. I will not based on these messed up elections that are just a show, aimed at trying to legitimize a group of criminals, or foreigners or CIA agents.
By the way, i am not an islamist and i dislike many of the views of Muqtada. but he is legit, you can't deny that.posted by: joe m. on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
"I do not agree that Iraq is better off now."
You are certainly entitled to your opinion. But the Iraqis seem to feel differently, according to Joe Lieberman:
"The vast majority of Iraqi politicians have cultivated their positions because of the Americans, not the Iraqis. The only obvious counterexample is Muqtada."
Then how do they expect to win reelection? And what then of Muqtada and the rest who line up against Americans? How is it that they are winning power?
"And yes, the republic of Iraq is still a farce until it becomes obvious that the government is representative of the wishes of the Iraqi people, independent of the wishes of the USA or Iran"
Im not sure precisely what that means. Is South Korea a farce because it can be argued as not being entirely independent of the US? Ukraine vis-a-vis Russia? Poland-EU? We live in a global community, i dont know if it is realistic anymore to expect any nation to be entirely independent for the will of the others. I get your point, and you are correct to an extent, the more US troops there are in Iraq the less independant the government is, if only via perception. But does that really make anything short of abandoning them to their own devices a farce? Has that been true elsewhere around the globe?
posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
"By the way, i am not an islamist and i dislike many of the views of Muqtada. but he is legit, you can't deny that."
Perhaps not, but he seems to be the fly in the soup of your argument with all respect. If what you are saying is true, Sadr should be in a cell or a grave.
One problem with these debates is that we tend to focus so heavilly on Anbar and Baghdad. I dont know how the US influences elections in Basra or Kurdistan for instance. And the Kurds especially you have to admit pretty much transferred their own political leadership wholesale from before the war. Certainly maintaining understanding with the US is important to the Kurds and they wont do too much to upset that, but you could say that about Taiwan or Panama just as easily.posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
Don't withdraw. Just consolidate. Unfortunately Professor, your view is grounded too much in poli sci and not enough in economics and military strategy. The ROI in Iraq is too high to withdraw. Unless, of course, you are advocating a crafty politically timed scaling back (read: consolidation) by fall '06 to go along with an equally crafty and politically timed request for a decrease in troop levels by some official in the Ministry of Hacks in the Iraqi government.
Either way, two truths remain- a) staying the course, whatever that means, is wise and b) Iraq is a shithole. An American shithole.posted by: No von Mises on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
'"The second Pentagon consultant told me, “If Allawi becomes Prime Minister, we can say, ‘There’s a moderate, urban, educated leader now in power who does not want to deprive women of their rights.’ He would ask us to leave, but he would allow us to keep Special Forces operations inside Iraq—to keep an American presence the right way. Mission accomplished. A coup for Bush.”'posted by: No von Mises on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
1. Death rates per 100,000 p.a.:
I personally do not believe anything that Lieberman says, he is as much of an ideological hawk as any republican. And, as I am sure you heard, I can produce quotes from an important CIA asset in Iraq who begs to differ:
I hope that more of the honest forces take control in Iraq (regardless of their ideology). And more of the Chalabi types get kicked out of the government. I agreed that I think Iraq is becoming more democratic. It is nowhere near honest in that respect yet. I am not sure where the line is either, but until the Iraqi government starts making decisions against the interests of the USA, and has them respected by the USA, they are a farce. They are not even close to that yet.
And I don't consider the Kurdish areas to be part of Iraq.posted by: joe m on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
I don't care what the American death rates are. I am worried about the Iraqi ones.
Joe, i have to say you dont seem to have much respect for the Iraqi people despite your calls for more independence. You refuse to countenence the possibility that they are selecting their own leaders. You disregard a quarter of the population who happen to be the most progressive. You demand that they oppose the US in order to show their independence. Sorry, but dont you see a bit of irony in that stance?posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
I don't think that they need to take long(er)-run positions against the USA to show they are independent, only that the definition of being independent is that they are able to make decisions that are free from the interests of the USA. Since it seems obvious to me that many of the views/interests of the US government are opposed to the views/interests of the average Iraqi, I expect them to go against the USA in practical terms as well and in theory. Bush is really being stuipd if he thinks he can just turn Iraq into a client state as was done with S. Korea. The USA has done too many crimes against them for that to happen, the people will never trust them, nor should they.
I do no disregard the Iraqi people at all, but believe that the political system the Americans set up is biased against the Iraqi people and against democracy. It might not be biased in the long run, but it is obviously unfair now. I do not believe they are selecting their own leaders not because I think they are unable to under fair conditions, but because I think the current conditions make it almost impossible. They did not select Saddam (even though he had elections) and he used violence to get his way, nor did they select the current set of leaders. It is not much different in my mind. Both sides use great force to dominate society, both terrorize society, both claim to have the interests of Iraq in mind, both are enriching their own patrons with their rule, both established their own political class, both disempower the majority of the people, both wall themselves off from society... it goes on...
I am not sure who you think to be the "most progressive" of the Iraqi people. If you are meaning the Kurds, it is just a fact that they do not consider themselves Iraqi, nor do most other Iraqis. They even voted something like 98% to break away from the country, but the Americans would not let them leave (so much for independence). But either way, I would not say they are the most progressive. Just because they work with the Mossad and host the CIA does not make them progressive. Actually, probably the Baath party members are generally the most progressive in the country, or the Communist party. Talabani is fairly progressive himself, but he is not representative of the people in his community, despite the fact that he tries to represent what he thinks their interests to be.
You are being very naive in your belief in the Americans. By putting your faith in the Americans, it is you who is not showing respect for the Iraqis.posted by: joe m on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
If the hundreds of sectarian militias are still formed, what makes us think the Iraqi army will be getting the best and brightest?posted by: NeoDude on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
"But its logically impossible that the Iraqi government can be a US puppet, a Fundamentalist nutcase, a powerhungry ex-pat, and an Iranian lapdog all at the same time."
"How do you tell an honest politician? He's an honest politician when after you buy him, he stays bought."
There's no contradiction at all between US puppet and ex-pat. And there's no contradiction between fundamentalist nutcase and iranian lapdog. Maybe the question is which side the ones who're multiply bought will land on.
So -- not logically impossible at all, except to people with oversimple minds.posted by: J Thomas on 11.29.05 at 10:28 AM [permalink]
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